The first round of these 2014 NBA Playoffs have already been dubbed by many to be the best first round ever. Five of the eight series went the distance and one the one that ended after the 6th game was decided by a crazy 3 at the buzzer.
With all the excitement, it is very easy to forget about the only team that swept their way into the second round; the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
Even though they finished the season with the East’s second best record and disposed of Charlotte’s 6th ranked defense with ease, no-one is talking about the Miami Heat right now.
Are we suffering from Heat Stroke?
Ever since LeBron’s decision to take his talents to South Beach and team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat have been disliked. Fans outside of Miami like nothing more than seeing them lose. This was most evident when Dallas stunned the world to steal the 2011 Championship from Miami.
Fast forward two years later and after the Heat seemingly came back from the dead against the Spurs to claim their second straight title; the Heat finally got their dues. Of course, this was largely due to the incredible play of MVP LeBron James.
Fans started recognising James’ once in a generation talent and appreciating his game. Most were no longer interested in seeing Miami lose as they were enthralled just by watching James play.
James was a short priced MVP favourite when this season began. It was seemingly his to lose. He was widely regarded as the best player in the world even with Kevin Durant breathing down his neck for that mantle. James started off in a flurry shooting the ball at 61% from the field in November and 80.2% from the free-throw line as the Heat won 14 of their first 17 games, including 10 in a row.
As the season progressed, Spoelstra took the opportunity to rest some his starters and not pursue the East’s best record, even though they nearly won it by default from the Pacers. Dwyane Wade played in only 54 regular season games, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers missed 9 each, while James and Bosh only had a few nights off.
The Heat still finished with 54 wins, the #2 seed in the East and home court through the first two rounds (at least).
James will likely finish second to Durant in MVP voting this season after Durant put together one of the more impressive offensive seasons in NBA history, but James was no slouch either. He still averaged right around his career marks in points (27.1), rebounds (6.9), assists (6.3) and steals (1.6), while also shooting a career high in FG% (.567) and TS% (.649), hitting 1.5 3ptm per game and posting a ridiculous PER again of 29.3. However, with voter fatigue, Durant’s numbers and James not having a career year, it is not surprising he will not capture MVP honours again this year.
Moving into the playoffs, the headlines were more about the Pacers’ struggles and the Heat’s lack-lustre finish to the regular season (losing 6 of their final 8 games), than the fact that the LeBron and the Heat were starting their quest for the first 3-peat since the Lakers in 2002.
So the Heat went about their business in the first round quietly. They faced a team in the Bobcats that, with their best player (Al Jefferson) hobbled by a foot injury, seemed happy just to be there as they built for the future.
Still, the Heat calmly disposed of the upstart Bobcats by an average margin of 9.8pts, with three of their four wins coming by double digit margins. They held the Bobcats to 92 points per game, well below the 97.4 they gave up during the regular season.
James stepped up, as we have become accustomed to watching him do in the postseason, to average 30pts, 8reb, 6ast and 2.2stl to lead the way, while Wade looked rested and played solidly with 17.5pts, 3.3reb, 3.8ast and .491 FG%, even hitting 50% from downtown.
Still, despite being the only team to sweep their opponent, no-one is talking about Miami as they await the winner of Toronto and Brooklyn. With the Pacers struggling with team chemistry and only narrowly getting past Atlanta, the Heat are widely favoured to come out of the Eastern Conference for the fourth straight year, yet no-one seems excited by this.
Maybe it’s because they haven’t played since Monday while all the other series go the distance. Maybe it’s because no-one thought it likely that Charlotte would give them any trouble. Maybe it’s because we just expect that they will win through to the Eastern Conference Finals. Or maybe, it’s because we take for granted how good the Heat are by now.
Are we over the Heat? Do we not appreciate their success any longer? Are we sick of watching them?
I think it would be a shame to feel that way. Like them or not, the Miami Heat are two-time defending champions and boast one of the most gifted players this game has ever seen.
Not only that, but the Heat gave us seven of the best NBA video bombs this year. Now that should be celebrated.
So lather up with sun cream people; hydrate yourselves and get over your Heat Stroke. You may be in the process of witnessing only the 6th three peat of all time and the coronation of one the game’s absolute greats.
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